Ryan Rice once despised the church. Then he found love.
Growing up in greater New Orleans, an aunt read the Bible to him. Rice found the stories about Jesus fascinating.
“I was the kid who raised his hand to answer every Bible question,” Rice said of his early exposure to Sunday School and Vacation Bible School.
When he turned 8 years old, his mother married a man who was an abuser and drug user. As a child just discovering the Bible, he learned about the dark side of life, and he asked a big question for a child, “Where is God?”
In middle school, his mother dragged him to church.
“I remember sitting there and thinking, ‘This is the worst thing ever. I hate church. I hate the people here.’ That was coming from a lot of hurt,” Rice said.
That hurt remained as he grew to become a popular and handsome athlete who was the high school student council president. On the outside, Rice appeared to have his life together.
“From every aspect of my life, I was empty on the inside,” Rice said. “I was just broken.”
Then he met Seane’ Smooth and her father Andrew Honore. On the first day of his freshman year at Dillard University in New Orleans, he saw Smooth and knew she was special. Smooth began praying for him. Rice met Honore when he visited Smooth’s home in nearby Slidell and attended church with her family. Honore led his future son-in-law to Christ during Rice’s sophomore year.
“I knew a couple of months after I came to faith in Christ that God was calling me to preach,” Rice said. “I didn’t know what that meant. I had no clue. What does it mean to be called?”
A Jonah experience
After college, Rice and Smooth married, and he began a career in insurance. They were living in Baton Rouge — just 90 miles north of New Orleans. Through prayer, he understood God to be directing him to serve in the children’s ministry at church.
“The ministry had been praying for more guys to serve with the children,” Rice said.
The pastor began discipling him, which furthered his understanding of God’s call in his life.
“It started with me being obedient to serve in my church,” Rice said.
But as he sensed a call to plant a church in his Algiers childhood neighborhood on New Orleans’s west bank, he still battled God.
“I can totally relate to Jonah,” Rice said. “I had this call, even desire, but I didn’t want to go. It was a reluctant kind of thing.”
Rice didn’t go to the Tarshish of old. Instead, He went to Michigan to interview with a church needing a children’s pastor. During the interview a pastor randomly asked him this question, “When are you going to church plant?”
Then Rice knew that he had to go home to his Nineveh.
“God has given us the green light of the Gospel to go to a place that is without hope and in need of hope. I’m sold. I said yes,” Rice said. “One day I had no desire to move to New Orleans or Algiers. Then one day I did.”
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SOURCE: Baptist Press